Richmond pool gets usage boost ahead of renovation

Richmond Pool.

The Richmond pool saw a surge in usage before major upgrades.

But confidence bosses say rising inflation and soaring energy costs have created a new set of challenges for the facility.

The pool will close in August for up to four months for upgrades which will cost more than £1.4million.

The works will include the renewal of the roof coverings of the building, the acid cleaning and repair of the existing masonry, the introduction of 56 photovoltaic solar panels on the south-eastern aspect of the roof and an air-source heat pump .

Ahead of the shutdown, Austin Gordon, chief executive of Richmondshire Leisure Trusts (RLT), said school swimming figures were 30% higher than before the pandemic, with swimming academy figures 18% higher elevated from pre-pandemic levels.

He said this equated to more than 700 lessons given at the pool each week, with the trust providing 600,000 swimming lessons since taking over management of the pool in 2005 from the district council.

The site has also seen a recent increase in activities such as aqua fitness, with additional classes introduced to meet growing demand.

The Richmond Dales Swimming Club, which uses the pool, has also seen its membership rise from 90 before Covid to 144 now.

In another boost for the pool, the Richmond Tri Club recently held its annual regional triathlon at the pool with 210 participants.

But Mr Gordon said while these upward trends were encouraging, they were seeing a rapid rise in operating costs.

The official said utility costs were estimated to rise 150% this year and swimming pools were big consumers of gas and electricity.

“If these predictions were correct, the cost of heating and lighting the Richmond swimming pool would rise from its current level of £60,000 a year to £150,000 a year and with general inflation currently at 9%, the remaining operating costs will increase by around £45,000.

“This additional cost of around £135,000 for the current year will pose real challenges, so the recent increase in the income grant provided by Richmondshire District Council by £50,000 will help close this gap, the trust finding the rest.”

Mr Gordon said the income grant which RLT received from the District Council was reduced by £60,000 in April 2011, with a further reduction of £40,000 in April 2012, with the level of grant remaining at that level without inflationary increase until last week when the RDC board agreed to the £50,000 increase.

“Following revenue subsidy reductions in 2011 and 2012, RLT realized cost savings and increased usage levels to maintain services.

“Over the past ten years, the Leisure Trust has successfully attracted 29 grants worth over £300,000 to directly support its work.

“As part of its community sports development work, RLT has also supported many clubs and local sports organizations with financial support, marketing assistance as well as specialist support through the completion of annual accounts.”

Mr Gordon said many pool operators were understandably worried about the future, as costs are skyrocketing at the same time disposable income is falling, which could lead to lower revenues.

He said UK Active and CIMPSPA, the Chartered Institute for Sport and Physical Activity Management, had written to the government urging them to provide additional fenced support for public swimming pools.

The letter says that without direct central government intervention, 85% of public leisure centers could be forced to close within 12 months.

“These numbers are very concerning because, especially since Covid, it is widely recognized that community recreation facilities play a vital role in maintaining a healthy body and mind,” Mr Gordon added.